A few examples of anatomical votive offerings that were left in the sanctuaries of Asklepios in thanks giving for the service he had provided and stood on the site as testament to a successful incubation. They represent the body parts that the god was said to have cured.
From the Athenian Asklepieion, the surviving inventories document at least 1347 dedications like these, made of various materials. The actual number would have been far higher than this. We have ears, breasts, genitalia, legs, feet and most commonly eyes. Like the beautiful pair in the last picture that were set into a column with niches for other parts. They are one of my favourite objects from the ancient world, staring out from history as a testament to an event at the Asklepieion. In Corinth however feet and legs are the most common.
Dedications like these happened all over the Greek world- from Cypres, to Asia, to Italy, to Sparta and Athens.
The practice was not limited Asklepios. For example, the man presenting an oversized model leg (complete with varicose vain) comes from the sanctuary of Amynos (a healing hero) in Athens. Breasts and genitalia could also be linked to the resolution of fertility problems and are sometimes found in the sanctuaries of Aphrodite as well.
At the Athenian Asklepieion the majority of offerings are from women. Some have suggested this is because they were more “superstitious” however men were definitely dedicating just as much, only they were more likely to dedicate coins.
Was the giving of these objects a sign of religious belief in the god? Or were the patients who used these site hypochondriacs who were easily susceptible to quakery and superstition?
Look at these objects given in gratitude for the alleviation of suffering and pain. They stood as testament of the patients thanks. A permanent and durable tribute in honour of the god and his help. Opposed to a fleeting prayer or a sacrifice quickly burnt through. With the fragility of life in antiquity, the human imagination responded with cults like these. Having a divine figure, a particularly human one at that, who cared enough to help would, of course, be showered with gifts and thanks. Asklepios’ popularity shouldn’t be under exagerrated. His cults were open to everyone and those cured felt obligated to give the god something in thanks. The votive offering above are examples of some of these.